You have taken three months off your job, glowed through the pregnancy, touched up your roots for the birth and squeezed in a Brazilian wax so it’s all tidy for the event. You locked your glass corner office in front of your 200 staffers at the farewell breakfast they organised. They had to drag you out, if truth be told. “I’ll be back,” you snarled with your Austrian accent at its practised best. You know how to play for laughs.
So here you are at home with your new baby. Home alone. Everything looks the same. Same garden, same television, same fridge. But everything is different.
You are supposed to have beautiful skin, a smile on your face and a lovely baby attached to your breast. You are supposed to gaze beautifically at her and gently rock as you doze off to sleep together on a rug in the dappled afternoon shade. You are not supposed to be hysterical, frazzled, anxious, manic and desperately trying to hold it together. Everything is wrong, yet there is no reason. You had a perfect birth, you have a supportive and loving husband, you have a nanny waiting in the wings, a nursery full of everything that squeaks and glitters. So what is wrong? Why are you not coping?
WELL, IT COULD BE THAT MOTHERHOOD IS A MASSIVE, EXHILARATING, wild roller-coaster ride of fear, love, frustration, anger, joy, sadness and every emotion in between. Or it could be that having a baby has triggered something you may never have experienced before : depression.
What is PND?
The deep depression women may fall into after childbirth has been documented as a condition for centuries, but until forty years ago it was seen as a unique or stand alone condition only exhibited in postpartum women. In fact, it is not.
“Post-natal depression is actually a depression, like any other depression,” says Dr Andrea Taub. “It just happens to be sparked by the birth of a baby, while at other times, triggers may be illness, loss, accident, drugs or an event.
Depression in general is seemingly unbearable at any point in your life, but the fact that this arrives when you are battling with a tiny baby, makes it such an incredibly loaded and terrifying experience. You are living in an emotional vortex in which all normality has been stripped away from your life, which is why the condition is so often undiagnosed.”
“What is depression?” says Trish. “I was living in a parallel universe of nightmarish feeds, endless burping and sleepless nights. There was no normality at all on which I could rate my behaviour and myself. I thought things were just really tough. Depression didn’t cross my mind for two years.”
What does it feel like?
Doc Andy Taub describes two predominant types of depression.
This type of depression manifests as a sense of finding no pleasure in anything. You may just want to sleep, not want to get out of bed, feel tired, lethargic and passive. Ironically, this can often coincide with insomnia. Most often you will wake in the early hours of the morning when you will experience a deep feeling of despair. Eating patterns can manifest as either overeating or lack of hunger.
Mania or Anxious Depression
With this type of depression, you feel so agitated and anxious you don’t know what to do with yourself. Your body is on fire, your metabolism is racing away with you, but you don’t want to eat. You feel like you could run an ultra-marathon, but you can’t get off the couch. You might drop weight at record pace, talk and interact at high speed, or feel as though you are immobilised and can’t communicate at all. You may feel unmotivated to make plans as usual but may try to busy yourself to stop the feeling. This is the more common experience of PND.
“The word depression in post-natal depression is a misnomer that makes it difficult for women to diagnose themselves. It creates the assumption that you will feel down and depressed. However, the usual experience is that of extreme anxiety. This is not a passive depression; it is an activated, agitated depression. Your body is in a bizarre antithesis where you are in a state of frozen anxiety,” says Doc Andy.
Anxiety is usually a vague imagining. It is not a concrete fear about losing your job or performing at a presentation but is more of a sinking feeling that something terrible is going to happen, that you are not okay. Most often, it manifests as dreadful, worst case scenario imaginings – death, loss, illness or just vague future disasters. Some part of you knows these will not happen, and your rational mind tells you to stop. But your rational mind is not in control here.
Fiona (thirty-eight) is a highly successful TV producer with a four-year-old son. She says her incredible energy was the envy of all her friends.
“I was sleeping probably only three hours a day. Even when my baby was asleep I was wracked with insomnia and stress. I would try and plan the entire next day. I would write with a torch as my husband slept, meticulously documenting eah fee. In five months, I lost twenty-five kilograms and was skeletal.” Her life on the surface was carrying on as normal.
“I said all the right things, had family and friends around to dinner and tea. But inside I was like a wound-up coil. I had bald patches from ripping out my hair. I hated every second of breast feeding and would be in a constant state of barely controlled panic.”
How are you feeling?
You could be depressed if these apply:
· You are irritable or confused.
· You feel like crying for no reason.
· You feel helpless, inadequate and unable to cope.
· You worry all the time.
· You feel scared and panicky.
· You feel ashamed and guilty.
· You don’t know who you are any more.
· You have no interest in anything.
· You don’t sleep the way you used to.
· You don’t eat the way you used to.
· You don’t love the baby the way you feel you should.
· You don’t want sex any more.
· You sometimes think of hurting the baby or yourself.
Every new mother has felt one if not all of the symptoms listed above. So how do you draw the line and say it’s PND and not the normal turmoil of motherhood? Ask yourself :
· Is it interfering with your daily functioning?
· Can you get to the shops, cook a meal, read a book or eat?
The Doc says that, when any of these everyday functions start slipping, you are dealing with pathology. “Everyone has felt anxious for a moment or an hour, but it did not stop them sleeping or eating. If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you are dealing with something more than anxiety or loss of appetite.”